A film adaptation of Stephen King's western-flavored fantasy saga, The Dark Tower novel series - which started with "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger", published in 1982 - has been in the works since at least 2007, with directors such as J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard having been attached to the project at different points in its development. The Dark Tower has not only drastically changed forms during the course of its development (recall: at one point, it was going to encompass both a movie trilogy and tie-in television series), but has also been passed around from Universal Pictures to Warner Bros. Pictures and then to Sony Pictures, where it currently resides.
King has expressed his confidence that the Dark Tower film adaptation is closer than ever to becoming a reality and entering production, now that director Nikolaj Arcel (director of A Royal Affair and writer of the Swedish-language Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)) is onboard to call the shots, drawing from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Oscar-winner Anders Thomas Jansen (In a Better World), Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend, The Divergent Series: Insurgent) and Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Furthermore, Sony has finalized its deals with the the two A-listers recently reported to be circling The Dark Tower.
It was King himself (via his Twitter account) who confirmed that Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey are now onboard to headline The Dark Tower as Roland "The Gunslinger" Deschain and "The Man in Black", respectively. The Dark Tower saga, for those who are not familiar, follows Deschain on his quest to track down "The Man in Black" across a western-inspired fantasy landscape populated by a variety of colorful and eccentric characters (some more dangerous than others), as part of a larger quest that involves finding the mystical Dark Tower (e.g. the MacGuffin of the story).
Elba and McConaughey have also Tweeted out the news through their own Twitter accounts and you can read their comments below, following King's announcement to his Twitter followers:
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 1, 2016
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) March 1, 2016
— Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) March 1, 2016
Arcel, speaking to EW, also confirmed that production on The Dark Tower will begin in South Africa in seven weeks (from the time of writing this), with a January 2017 release date currently in place for the project. It remains to be seen whether or not Sony will stick to that release date, given that it would require a rather quick turn-around for the project, between both its principal photography and post-production. Sony has openings in its 2017 theatrical release slate in April and May, as the studio has yet to schedule a major film release for either of those two months. That would allow for a year between Arcel starting production on The Dark Tower and its theatrical premiere date (which is the standard turn-around time for tentpoles, nowadays), so don't be surprised if this Stephen King film adaptation ends up being moved to Spring 2017, for that reason.
Arcel, during his interview with EW, offered the following thoughts on the Dark Tower series, in general:
“What Stephen King does best is mixing the everyday, or what you might call the mundane, with the fantastical. In my view, [The Dark Tower] novels are a mix between sci-fi and fantasy and modern times. That exact mix is so Stephen King.”
King, by his own admittance, was inspired by Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character from director Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy" while creating the character of Roland Deschain: a gruff, yet compelling, long gun-slinger who ought to make for an engaging protagonist in the hands of an actor as talented as Elba (imagine Luther in a fantastical version of the Old West). Similarly, the role of the devilish yet charismatic antagonist that is the "Man in Black" lies right in McConaughey's wheelhouse, as an actor (likewise, picture a sinister figure with the looks, confidence and charm of McConaughey's Dallas Buyers Club character, Ron Woodruff). Meanwhile, Abbey Lee of Mad Max: Fury Road fame is currently reported to be in talks to join the film's cast as Tirana, a character who (it appears) will have a different role to play in the Dark Tower film adaptation than the one she had in King's source novels.
As for the casting of Elba in the role of Deschain, a character originally described by King as being white: the author have weighed in on the matter before (giving his blessing to Elba to play the role) and reiterated his thoughts on the casting decision, during his interview with EW:
“For me the character is still the character. It’s almost a Sergio Leone character, like ‘the man with no name. He can be white or black, it makes no difference to me. I think it opens all kind of exciting possibilities for the backstory.”
There will be related changes made to the Dark Tower storyline in Arcel's film adaptation, with the director specifically singling out the racially-tense relationship between Roland and Susannah (a black amputee snatched out of the year 1964) as an element from King's books that will be different in his movie, having told EW "as the story progresses that will be made clear, how we’ll deal with all those things.” There will be other narrative changes too, with King having told EW that the Dark Tower movie "starts in media res, in the middle of the story instead of at the beginning" and won't strictly use "The Gunslinger" as its source material. Nevertheless, changes are to be expected during the process of adapting King's massive, multi-volume Dark Tower narrative to the big screen; which ones go over better with fans of King's novels remains to be seen, but the casting for this movie alone feels like a step in the right direction.
The Dark Tower is currently scheduled to open in U.S. theaters on January 13th, 2017. We'll let you know if (when?) that changes.